Les anglonautes

About | Search | Vocapedia | Learning | Podcasts | Videos | History | Arts | Science | Translate

 Previous Home Up Next


History > 2008 > USA > Jail, Prison (II)




Illustration: Kyle T. Webster


Helping Prisoners Re-enter Society



















Judges to Decide

Whether Crowded California Prisons

Are Unconstitutional


December 8, 2008
The New York Times


SAN FRANCISCO — Faced with chronically packed prisons and a federal mandate to improve medical and living conditions, a three-judge panel is meeting here to decide whether the overcrowding results in unconstitutional treatment of California’s more than 150,000 inmates. If so, the judges could order the state to release tens of thousands of prisoners.

“We have a motion today to exercise a very serious order which interferes in a profound way with the state’s right to run its own affairs,” one of the judges on the panel, Lawrence Karlton of Federal District Court, said in a hearing last week. “And on the other hand, we have a serious failure of the state to provide adequate care.”

California’s 33 adult prisons teem with nearly double the inmates they were designed to hold. Lawyers for the inmates say the conditions lead to violence, outbreaks of disease, inadequate mental and other health care for prisoners, and even death.

“Overcrowding is dangerous for the prisoners, for the corrections officers and for the public,” said Michael Bien, a lawyer for the inmates, who asked the judges to reduce the prison population by 52,000 inmates over two years.

Lawyers for the state argued that reducing the prison population would result in increased crime and burden counties already facing tight budgets.

“Releasing more than 50,000 inmates onto the streets is dangerous,” said Matthew Cate, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, who added that he had seen reports saying that California’s inmates tended to have more felony offenses than inmates in other states.

“Our most serious problem is providing enough appropriate space for our seriously mentally ill inmates,” Mr. Cate said, “and releasing prisoners is not going to fix that problem.”

But lawyers for the inmates said that they were not seeking the release of dangerous criminals and that much of the reduction in the number of inmates could come from not sending people who have committed minor parole violations back to prison.

The state’s prison health system is currently under the control of a federal receiver, who announced in August that the state would need to spend $8 billion to fix its prisons and build facilities.

But the state is also facing a severe budget crisis. Last Monday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a financial emergency and requested the State Legislature to address an $11.2 billion dollar deficit, saying that without immediate action, “our state is headed for a fiscal disaster where everyone will be hurt.”

Another judge at the hearing, Stephen Reinhardt of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, said, “We should start from the premise that there’s not going to be any more money spent on this problem.”

The panel is expected to rule early next year, but an order to release prisoners would most likely face an appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

    Judges to Decide Whether Crowded California Prisons Are Unconstitutional, NYT, 8.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/08/us/08calif.html






The California Prison Disaster


October 25, 2008
The New York Times


The mass imprisonment philosophy that has packed prisons and sent corrections costs through the roof around the country has hit especially hard in California, which has the largest prison population, the highest recidivism rate and a prison budget raging out of control.

According to a new federally backed study conducted at the University of California, Irvine, the state’s corrections costs have grown by about 50 percent in less than a decade and now account for about 10 percent of state spending — nearly the same amount as higher education. The costs could rise substantially given that a federal lawsuit may require the state to spend $8 billion to bring the prison system’s woefully inadequate medical services up to constitutional standards.

The solution for California is to shrink its vastly overcrowded prison system. To do so, it would need to move away from mandatory sentencing laws that have proved to be disastrous across the country — locking up more people than protecting public safety requires.

In addition, the state also has perhaps the most counterproductive and ill-conceived parole system in the United States. More people are sent to prison in California by parole officers than by the courts. In addition, about 66 percent of California’s parolees land back in prison after three years, compared with about 40 percent nationally. Four in 10 are sent back for technical violations like missed appointments or failed drug tests.

Later this year, the state is expected to begin testing a new system that redirects the lowest-risk drug addicts to treatment. But that will only work if the state and the counties dramatically expand treatment slots.

The heart of the problem is that California’s parole system is simply too big. Most states keep dangerous people behind bars or reserve parole supervision for the most serious offenders. California puts virtually everyone on parole, typically for three years.

Under this setup, about 80 percent of the parolees have fewer than two 15-minute meetings with a parole officer per month. That might be adequate for low-risk offenders, but it’s clearly too little time for serious offenders who present a risk to public safety.

A good first step would be to place fewer people on parole. The second step would be to reserve the most intensive supervision for offenders who present the greatest risk.

State lawmakers, some of whom are fearful of being seen as soft on crime, have failed to make perfectly reasonable sentencing modifications and other changes that the prisons desperately need. Unless they muster some courage soon, Californians will find themselves swamped by prison costs and unable to afford just about anything else.

    The California Prison Disaster, NYT, 25.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/25/opinion/25sat1.html






Man Who Killed His Family Found Dead in Prison


October 9, 2008
Filed at 12:52 p.m. ET
The New York Times


PENDLETON, Ind. (AP) -- An Indiana man convicted of raping and killing a 10-year-old neighborhood girl, then slaying his wife and three young daughters, has died in prison of an apparent suicide.

Simon Rios of Fort Wayne was found hanging in his cell at the Pendleton Correctional Facility Thursday morning. Prison spokesman David Barr says Rios was pronounced dead after medical personnel couldn't revive him.

The 36-year-old had been serving five life terms for the 2005 deaths.

Rios pleaded guilty in 2007 to abducting the neighbor girl near her school bus stop, driving her to a gravel pit and sexually assaulting and killing her. Days later, he killed his wife and three young daughters.

An autopsy is planned.

    Man Who Killed His Family Found Dead in Prison, NYT, 9.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Indiana-Slayings.html






The Changing of the Guard


September 28, 2008
The New York Times


IN her 19 years as a corrections officer on Rikers Island, Barbara Williams has been trapped in a mess hall with rioting inmates and thrown against an iron gate by a man twice her size who left her with a fractured shoulder. But nothing makes her wince like remembering the time an inmate commented on the way her hips swayed ever so slightly beneath her boxy blue uniform, back when she first came on the job.

“He said: ‘Damn! You remind me of a pantyhose commercial,’ ” recalled Ms. Williams, who is in her late 40s and has a compact build and a deep, raspy voice. “The feeling I had all that day was as if he had touched me or something.”

She spoke of the episode one recent afternoon at Horizon Academy, a high school for male inmates that is in the George Motchan Detention Center, one of eight jails on the island holding inmates awaiting trial. Ms. Williams cited the man’s comment as a crucial moment in her career.

“I saw right off that I have to change my demeanor: I have to be more forceful; I have to harden myself,” said Ms. Williams, a single mother of two grown daughters. That very night, she went back to her apartment in Jamaica, Queens, and practiced stiffening her walk in front of a mirror.

“It’s like I tell my daughters: In life, you have to know when to be a woman and when to be a lady,” she said. “I don’t feel that ladies belong in jail. So, that softer part of me, I try to leave outside. I walk in here, and I try to be 110 percent woman.”

Women have worked in the city’s Department of Correction for decades, but never in such large numbers as they do today. Women make up 45 percent of about 9,300 uniformed employees of the department, according to the agency. From guards to wardens to the four-star chief, Carolyn Thomas, they fill almost every rank. And in many respects, they are changing the culture of the city’s jails.

Walk down the corridors of any of the city’s 11 active jails, and it is clear that not only are there a high number of female officers, but a majority of those women — 75 percent — are black, said Stephen Morello, a department spokesman. They are former soldiers, beauticians and bank tellers. They are single mothers who took the job to support their children. They are grandmothers like Angela Crim (“Crime without the ‘E,’ ” she says sweetly), who carries handwritten Scripture in her purse and says she tries not to judge the men whom she guards.

Some of the women are natural caretakers who dispense wisdom to inmates along with bars of lye soap. Others are hard-nosed disciplinarians. But all the women have one thing in common: They are taking their place in a world traditionally dominated by men.

Nowhere is their sense of sorority more evident than in the women’s locker room, where pictures of Barack Obama and male models with rippling torsos provide a little relief after a long shift, and jars of hair products like Queen Helene Styling Gel clutter the sink counters.

Upward Bound

Ask any woman in the city’s Correction Department why she wanted a job that brings with it such stress and potential danger, and she’ll tell you that it’s the security. Such a career, in which no college degree is required and the top yearly pay for an officer is $75,000, can mean the difference between a life of hardship and a ticket into the middle class.

“I don’t think anybody grows up saying, ‘I want to be in charge of inmates,’ ” said Chantay Forbes, a 30-year-old single mother from East New York, Brooklyn, who took the corrections officer’s exam about a decade ago when she was pregnant with her son. She recently bought a house upstate.

“All I saw was what it could do for my future,” added Ms. Forbes, a newly promoted captain. “If it wasn’t for this job, I might not be able to own a home right now.”

Several factors explain the rising number of women entering the city’s Correction Department. One is the 1977 United States Supreme Court decision in Dothard v. Rawlinson, a watershed sex discrimination case that helped opened doors for women in law enforcement.

Another is the fact that in the mid-’80s, the agency’s third female commissioner, Jacqueline McMickens, began assigning female guards to all-male jails that were once off limits to them. More recently, academic experts suggest, labor shortages and an overhaul of the welfare system have driven more women into the field.

But nothing beats word of mouth. Over the years, mothers and daughters, sisters and girlfriends have recruited one another. One recruit, Suzeth Orr, a hairdresser who used to work at a salon in Downtown Brooklyn, learned about the job from two clients who worked for the department. “They said it’s not a hard job,” she said. “It’s actually safe.”

Statistics bear that out. Last year was the safest on record for the city’s jails, according to the department, and many female corrections officers think that the decrease in violence is linked in part to their presence.

“The female touch is a little more gentle,” said Joandrea Davis, a warden who runs a jail for sentenced male inmates on Rikers and keeps her office stocked with bottles of Perrier and candy-apple-scented hand lotion. “You don’t have that machismo that comes into confrontational situations, and sometimes we’re able to quell things.”

But not all the time. “It is a jail,” she added. “We’re not dealing with choirboys here.”

It’s impossible to quantify the exact impact women have had on the city’s jails. But the system has seen changes.

“Certainly it disrupts a culture that is all about masculinity; we see both resistances and progress,” said Dana Britton, a sociology professor at Kansas State University and the author of the 2003 book “At Work in the Iron Cage: The Prison as Gendered Organization.”

And Commissioner Martin Horn, the Correction Department’s top official, notes that the increased number of women brings unique challenges.

He ticked off a litany of complicated issues: “Do women search men? How far do they go? Do you do a pat frisk? Do you do a strip search? Where does the right of the female officer to do the full range of her duties of her job bump up against the privacy rights of the inmate or the sensibilities of the female officer? The skies don’t open up and reveal an answer.”

Shaping an Inmate’s Life

Nearly two decades after perfecting her walk in front of the mirror, Barbara Williams is, by her own account, “Mom to everybody.” She has one daughter heading to law school, and the other is a small-business entrepreneur. Neighborhood children flocked to Ms. Williams’s home when they needed advice, or just a sandwich. But to male corrections officers, she is simply Nana, an affectionate nickname for a grandmother.

“Hey, Grandma!” a beefy officer greeted her one recent afternoon as he passed her desk at Horizon Academy. “Look at them big ol’ eyelashes!”

Ms. Williams, who has a fondness for false eyelashes and wears green-rimmed glasses, declines to reveal her exact age, not because she’s afraid of seeming old, she said, but because she wants to be perceived as older than she really is, especially among male inmates.

She has had particular success shaping the life of a 23-year-old inmate named Luis, who is facing a charge of attempted second-degree murder in connection with a fight in a diner in Williamsburg.

One day last year, Luis told Ms. Williams that he wanted to attend classes at Rikers, and she arranged for him to enter Horizon Academy. Although his attendance was spotty at first, he eventually began attending class regularly.

“And he’s been with us ever since,” Ms. Williams said one day as she and Luis sat in an empty classroom and discussed his progress. “He ironed out good.”

This has partly to do with the fact that male inmates may perceive female officers as comforting surrogates for women they are close to outside.

“She remind me of a family member,” Luis said. “Just like my moms or my aunt, always leading me the right way.”

Ms. Williams has heard it before.

“They all say that,” she said. “ ‘Oh, you remind me of my aunt.’ ‘You remind me of my grandmother.’ ‘You remind me of my wife.’ I don’t pay it no mind.”

Many female officers were raised in environments not that different from those in which inmates grew up. Some officers said they occasionally see in the jails people whom they recognize from the world outside.

This has happened more than once to Ms. Williams, who has even recognized inmates from her own neighborhood, including an old acquaintance who dared to call her by her first name. She arranged for the inmate to be transferred to another jail.

“Say we’re neighbors, and you come to jail,” she said. “All right, you did what you did, but I do what I do. You’re going to respect my position. If we passed sugar over the fence, there’s no more passing sugar over the fence. You got to go! This is my space now.”


If anyone has been a visible role model for female corrections officers, it is Carolyn Thomas, 50, a 27-year veteran of the department. Two years ago, Ms. Thomas was promoted to chief of the department, the highest-ranked uniformed officer, second only to the commissioner. One of the first female corrections officers to work with male inmates, she manages a staff of nearly 10,000 and an inmate population of about 14,000, overseeing the daily operations of all the city’s jails, court holding pens and prison wards.

On a recent afternoon in Ms. Thomas’s office on Rikers, a trailer decorated inside with a fake gingerbread house and a bouquet of artificial daisies, roses and baby’s breath, she talked about the challenges she faced as she moved up in the ranks.

“You have to do your job 10 times better than a male to prove yourself, and you do that by not asking for anything special,” said Ms. Thomas, wearing a starched white shirt with four gold stars on the collar. In a lament commonly heard among women in male-dominated jobs, she added: “You’re proving yourself in the sense that ‘I can do this job as good as you can. I don’t belong to a clique. I don’t belong to anything.’ ”

Women go through the same 15-week training as men at the Correction Academy in Queens, where they learn defense tactics such as how to escape a chokehold and how to use their riot batons. (The department does not keep statistics on the number of injuries among women compared with men’s.)

But their progress has not been without problems. In the late ’80s, some female employees made accusations about gender bias and sexual harassment. In 1990, in one particularly incendiary lawsuit against the city, a group of current and former female officers contended that they were forced to have abortions or take dangerous assignments to keep their jobs. A $2.2 million settlement was reached in 1991.

Much progress has been made since then, thanks to female pioneers in corrections like Ms. Thomas. In fact, Ms. Davis, who rose from deputy warden, said her promotions had been a bit of a sore spot between her and her husband, a corrections officer whom she met on the job in 1989, when they were both starting out as guards.

“It was difficult at first,” Ms. Davis said. “His peers would tease him: ‘You got to salute your wife now.’ ”

Recently, Ms. Davis has begun grooming other women for promotions within the department. Ms. Thomas also mentors women eager to move up. In return, they give her homey mementos, among them a painted tile that reads, “It’s a rare person who can take care of hearts while also taking care of business.”

After nearly 30 years in the department, the chief said, she has no desire to become the next female commissioner. Instead, she is looking forward to a long and prosperous retirement on Long Island.

“This is it for me,” Ms. Thomas said one afternoon in her office, breaking into a gap-toothed smile. “I’m going to sit back and be a housewife, and I’m going to go on to enjoy the second part of my life.”

Ms. Williams of Horizon Academy is also mulling her future. After almost two decades working in the jail, she has just one more year before she can retire and reap the benefits of a pension package that drew her into being a corrections officer in the first place.

For now, Ms. Williams sits at her desk and watches the new crop of inmates, and she is particularly struck by how young they seem, with their do-rags and baggy jeans.

“Pull them pants up on you!” Ms. Williams sometimes says. “If you don’t fix those pants, I’m going to bust you up!”

Often they listen. Just the other morning, a young fellow whom Ms. Williams had reprimanded for acting up in class passed her desk. She asked whether he was behaving himself.

“Yes, ma’am, Miss Williams,” he replied. “I love you, Miss Williams.”

To which she responded: “Don’t love me. Love your mother. She’s the one that’s crying for you because you’re in here. You broke your mother’s heart.”

Sometimes, Ms. Williams said, “you got to hit them with the truth.”

    The Changing of the Guard, NYT? 28.9.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/28/nyregion/thecity/28guar.html?hp






Two Decades in Solitary


September 23, 2008
The New York Times


He is one of New York’s most isolated prisoners, spending 23 hours a day for the past two decades in a 9-by-6-foot cell. The only trimmings are a cot and a sink-toilet combination. His visitors — few as they are — must wedge into a nook outside his cell and speak to him through a 1-by-3-foot window of foggy plexiglass and iron bars.

In this static existence, Willie Bosket, 45, seems to have gone from defiant menace to subdued and empty inmate.

It was 30 years ago this month that a state law took effect allowing juveniles to be tried as adults, largely in response to Mr. Bosket’s slaying of two people on a New York subway when he was 15. He served only five years in jail for that crime because he was a juvenile, sparking public outrage. But shortly after completing his sentence, Mr. Bosket was arrested for assaulting a 72-year-old man.

He once claimed to be at “war” with prison officials. He said he laughed at the system and claimed to have committed more than 2,000 crimes as a child. He set fire to his cell and attacked guards. Mr. Bosket was sentenced to 25 years to life for stabbing a guard in the visitors’ room in 1988, along with other offenses, leading prison authorities to make him virtually the most restricted inmate in the state.

Now Mr. Bosket, who has gone 14 years without a disciplinary violation, does mainly three things: read, sleep and think.

“Just blank” is how Mr. Bosket described his existence during a recent interview at Woodbourne Correctional Facility, about 75 miles north of Manhattan. “Everything is the same every day. This is hell. Always has been.”

He is scheduled to remain isolated from the general prison population until 2046.

Mr. Bosket’s seclusion is part of a bigger debate over the confinement of troublesome inmates and the role of the prison system. Some say that Mr. Bosket’s level of seclusion is draconian, that he should be given an opportunity to rejoin the general population.

“He is a very dangerous person; he’s killed people,” said Jo Allison Henn, a lawyer who helped represent Mr. Bosket roughly 20 years ago when he fought unsuccessfully to have some of his restrictions removed. “I’m not saying he should be released from custody entirely, just the custody that he is in. It is beyond inhumane. I don’t think that too many civilized countries do that.”

But proponents of Mr. Bosket’s restrictions say he has proved to be something of an incorrigible danger to prison guards and other inmates and cannot be trusted in the general population. He is evaluated periodically, meaning he could rejoin the general prison population before 2046, said Erik Criss, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections.

“This guy was violent or threatening violence practically every day,” Mr. Criss said. “Granted, it has been a while, but there are consequences for being violent in prison. We have zero tolerance for that.”

From 1985 to 1994, Mr. Bosket was written up nearly 250 times for disciplinary violations that included spitting on guards, throwing food and swallowing the handle of a spoon, according to prison reports.

Few, if any, of the state’s current inmates have been in disciplinary housing longer than Mr. Bosket, said Linda Foglia, a spokeswoman for the corrections department.

Mr. Bosket says he wakes up at 7:15 every morning and gets a visit from a counselor at 8. At 9, he gets his first of three doses of medication for asthma and high cholesterol, he said. Lunch comes at 11:30, followed by more medication at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.

He is entitled to three showers a week. Other than one hour of recreation a day, also solitary, he may leave his cell only for medical visits and haircuts. The recreation area measures 34 feet by 17 feet, surrounded by nearly 9-foot-high walls with bars on the top. Mr. Bosket said he was chained to a door during his recreation time and could not walk more than six feet, but corrections officials disputed that account, saying he was allowed to roam freely during his hour like other inmates.

And while other prisoners in isolation are escorted to a visiting room when they have guests, he must stay in his cell, speaking through the plexiglass.

Most of his waking hours, he said, are spent reading books, magazines, newspapers and anything else he can get his hands on. His favorite magazine, he said, was Elle.

“It’s very colorful,” he said. “It keeps me up to date on technology and the world.”

Mr. Bosket has long been known as a paradox, a man of charm and extraordinary intelligence but also of inexplicable fits of rage.

“It was like a terrifying metamorphosis when this spark within him went off, and you could see the rage in him building,” said Robert Silbering, a former prosecutor who tried Mr. Bosket for the subway murders. “I never have seen anything like that before or afterward.”

The killings led Gov. Hugh L. Carey to sign a law allowing people as young as 13 to be tried as adults for murder. Mr. Bosket said he saw it as something of an honor that he could drastically change a justice system that he said made him a “monster.”

“If I’m the perfect example, then I’ve been taught well,” he said.

At the sight of a recent visitor, Mr. Bosket cheerfully nodded and, revealing a small gap between his front teeth, gave a friendly, “Hi, how’s it going?”

He spoke with the aura of a professor, using deliberate gestures and emphasizing the ends of many words. He often spoke in metaphors and used stories and quotations to explain his philosophies.

As he contemplated his words, Mr. Bosket often folded his right arm across his bulging stomach and lay the fingers of his left hand across his mouth and nose. He sometimes rocked in his chair.

Despite his bleak situation, Mr. Bosket refused to concede defeat: “I’m not broken down and never will be.”

His life has always been empty, he said.

“I grew up with nothing,” he said. “I was born with nothing. I still have nothing. I will never have nothing. Forty-five years of living the way I have lived, I like ‘nothing.’ No one can take ‘nothing’ from you.”

Mr. Bosket, who has spent all but two years in some form of lockup since he was 9, also said he had formed a “breastplate” from a lifetime of incarceration.

“I’ve become so callous to the poking of the sword that, literally, instead of bleeding to death, the blood was drained and I became absent of concern, void of emotions, cold — plain cold to the degree that not much affects me anymore,” he said.

Yet Mr. Bosket did hint at something of a life of suffering.

“If somebody came to me with a lethal injection, I’d take it,” he said. “I’d rather be dead.”

His change from vicious to quiescent, Mr. Bosket said, was a calculated move. Growing up in Harlem, Mr. Bosket said, his heroes were revolutionaries like Huey Newton and Assata Shakur. He said he believed blacks needed to use violence to survive in the 1970s and ’80s.

But in 1994, he said, he sensed a change in society. “Blacks don’t need to go and attack to get their message across,” he recalled thinking.

He said that he also wanted young people to see positive in his life, and that continued violence could be counterproductive.

“I don’t believe at this point it’s strategic for me to be aggressive or violent,” he said. “I’ve made my point.”

“I’m not proud of a lot of the things I’ve done,” he added.

Mr. Bosket’s sister, Cheryl Stewart, 51, said her brother had expressed remorse in letters.

“What was done was wrong, and if he could redo it, he wouldn’t do it again,” she said. “He knows what was done was wrong and is just sorry for what all has went down.”

Though she corresponds with her brother, Ms. Stewart said she had not visited him in 23 years because it was difficult to see him so confined. Mr. Bosket is lucky to receive more than two visits a year.

Adam Mesinger, a television and movie producer, said he had visited Mr. Bosket seven times over the past four years and is shopping a script for a movie about Mr. Bosket’s life. He said that Mr. Bosket had always been warm and open with him and that he would consider him a friend.

“I have no fear of him,” Mr. Mesinger said. “I don’t think he would ever harm me. I don’t think he ever really wants to harm anybody.”

But not even Mr. Bosket would say that his days of violence are behind him.

“When you’re in hell,” he said, “you can’t predict the future.”

    Two Decades in Solitary, NYT, 23.9.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/23/nyregion/23inmate.html






$8 Billion Demand in California Prison Case


August 14, 2008
The New York Times


LOS ANGELES — The court-appointed receiver in charge of bringing California’s prison health system into compliance with federal constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual treatment of prisoners said Wednesday that he would ask a judge to seize $8 billion from the state treasury to pay for improvements.

The federal receiver, J. Clark Kelso, said he would seek an order forcing California to pay to build new medical facilities and upgrade existing ones at its 33 state prisons.

Mr. Kelso said he would also urge Judge Thelton E. Henderson of Federal District Court in San Francisco to hold Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Controller John Chiang in contempt of court for their failure to pay for the plan. Mr. Kelso said the state should pay the $8 billion over five years. The requests will be heard in court on Sept. 22.

The receivership was created after the ruling in a class-action lawsuit that California’s prison medical facilities did not meet constitutional standards.

The receiver’s demands come after the Legislature twice failed to pass a bill that would have provided financing for the prison plan and as the state is facing a $15.2 billion budget deficit. The plan would add $3.1 billion to this year’s deficit.

Officials in the governor’s administration predicted that a final budget settlement would resolve the receivership’s financing problem before the motion was heard and acknowledged Mr. Kelso’s broad authority to demand state money.

Mr. Kelso said his prison health care proposals should take precedence over other state mandates because of the constitutional issues involved.

“We still have people dying because of the conditions of health care in California’s prisons,” Mr. Kelso said. “I need to move as quickly as I can to rectify those conditions.”

California’s prisons are among the nation’s most crowded, with about 159,000 inmates in facilities designed for about 100,000.

    $8 Billion Demand in California Prison Case, NYT, 14.8.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/14/us/14prison.html?ref=us






Federal Report Finds Poor Conditions at Cook County Jail


July 18, 2008
The New York Times


CHICAGO — People awaiting trial here at the Cook County Jail, one of the nation’s largest local jails, have endured vastly inadequate medical care, beatings at the hands of jail workers and dilapidated, dangerous building conditions often left unrepaired for months, federal authorities said on Thursday.

Grim images peppered 98 pages of federal findings from a sweeping 17-month investigation about the jail, a West Side complex of buildings, the oldest of which once housed Al Capone, that is now temporary home to about 9,800 men and women.

The investigation by the civil rights division of the United States Department of Justice and the office of Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States attorney here, found that the jail had systematically violated the constitutional rights of inmates. The Cook County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the jail, strongly denied that.

Among dozens of glimpses of life inside the jail, the federal investigators wrote of an inmate who, after exposing himself to a female officer in July 2007, was handcuffed, then hit and kicked by a group of jail officers. Some inmates were not given their mental illness medications for weeks, the investigators said, while others were given such drugs without records of why. In August 2006, an inmate’s leg was amputated after an infection beneath a cast went untreated.

“You can’t have conditions where people are dying and being amputated,” Mr. Fitzgerald said at a news conference.

The authorities would not say what had led in early 2007 to an investigation into the jail, a 96-acre complex that houses mainly people waiting for their trials and that, by some federal measures, was in 2007 among the top half-dozen jails in the nation in numbers of inmates. About 100,000 people are admitted to the Cook County Jail in a given year.

The outcome of the findings remains uncertain. Mr. Fitzgerald said he hoped to reach an agreement with Cook County officials regarding changes at the jail. If those efforts fail, a lawsuit is possible, prosecutors said, under a 1980 act that has led to federal investigations into claims of systematic abuse at 430 jails, mental health facilities, nursing homes and other public institutions.

Perhaps most remarkable about the federal findings was the comprehensive scope of the critique; almost no element of the jail seemed to meet muster. Investigators pointed to poor supervision of inmates, the presence of weapons, mistreatment of inmates, unsatisfactory dental, mental health and medical care, electrical hazards, plumbing problems and ventilation failings.

The office of Thomas J. Dart, the Cook County sheriff since late 2006, issued a statement on Thursday pledging to work with federal authorities on improvements, but also taking strong issue with elements of the report. Most notably, the statement said, many improvements have been put into place — before and after federal investigators visited the jail in 2007.

“The report often relies on inflammatory language and draws conclusions based on anecdotes and hearsay from inmates,” the statement said, adding that the “allegations of systematic violations of civil rights at the jail are categorically rejected by the sheriff’s office.”

In a separate statement, the office of Todd H. Stroger, president of the Cook County Board, said that the county had in recent years provided financing for more correctional officers, and that its facilities and maintenance workers had finished 40,000 “work orders” at the jail in the past year. The county’s health bureau “continues to work diligently to provide quality medical care for the inmates,” it said.

Among causes of the jail’s troubles, the report pointed to inadequate staffing (3,800 sworn officers and civilians work there), crowding, inadequate policies and procedures, insufficient supervision and what Mr. Fitzgerald called a culture of abuse.

In one case, investigators said, an inmate had to be hospitalized and placed on a ventilator after being beaten by several officers.

“There’s clearly examples of corrections officers in organized groups beating inmates to retaliate for verbal abuse, and people going to the hospital for it,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “And that’s got to stop.”

Violence among the inmates, too, is prevalent, investigators found. In less than two months in 2006, seven knife fights caused serious injuries to some 33 inmates and seven jail workers. One inmate died.

And investigators identified “numerous instances” in which it said the county’s failure to handle medical treatment properly “likely contributed to preventable deaths, amputation, hospitalizations and unnecessary harm.”

Among the cases they cited was that of an H.I.V.-positive woman who complained of shortness of breath and a cough, and was then found to have an abnormal X-ray. Despite the test, the woman received no follow-up care, the investigators said, and died in early 2006.

Catrin Einhorn contributed reporting.

    Federal Report Finds Poor Conditions at Cook County Jail, NYT, 18.7.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/18/us/18cook.html







Helping Prisoners Re-enter Society


May 27, 2008
The New York Times


To the Editor:

Re “A Second Chance” (editorial, May 20):

Most re-entry efforts focus on prison inmates, yet about nine million people cycle annually through our country’s jails. This is roughly 10 times the number who leave prisons.

Jail inmates generally return to their communities after short incarcerations, bringing with them a higher incidence of communicable diseases and mental health conditions than exists in the general population.

Left untreated, these problems add to society’s health burden, emergency room costs and municipal budgets. They also increase the likelihood that inmates will commit new offenses and return to jail again, at public expense.

Jails are required to provide health care to inmates. This mandate creates an opportunity to support re-entry efforts. By linking inmates with community-based doctors, whom they can continue seeing after release, jails can stabilize inmates’ health and help improve the health and safety of the community.

The Second Chance Act is a welcome step. We can do more to support jail inmates by remembering that they are part of our communities and by providing them with community-based health care during incarceration.

Keith Barton
South Londonderry, Vt., May 20, 2008

The writer, a physician, is medical director of Community Oriented Correctional Health Services in Oakland, Calif.

To the Editor:

Financing of the Second Chance Act will support useful services to support the transition from prison to community. But these services must also be accompanied by removal of conflicting and counterproductive policies that stand in the way of community reintegration.

For example, while New York State allocated $3.1 million to assist re-entry efforts this year, the same budget projects an estimated $40 million in revenues from fees and surcharges imposed on people convicted of crimes, 80 percent of whom are indigent.

This crushing debt will leave releasees unable to acquire employment and housing, reverting to a life of crime that jeopardizes the community safety.

If New York is truly committed to public safety and reintegration, it must stop using financial penalties that undermine the intent of legislation like the Second Chance Act.

Marsha Weissman
Executive Director
Center for Community Alternatives
New York, May 22, 2008

To the Editor:

Your editorial prompts me to note several aspects of New York’s second-chance philosophy.

As The Times has noted, four upstate prisons are being kept open, fully staffed, costing taxpayers $33 million a year, during tough fiscal times and when the prison population is down by 8,000 people over the last decade. That money could be better used for re-entry programs, lessening recidivism, bolstering the upstate economy, and a real battle against crime.

We would never staff a school without students or a hospital without patients. Let’s use criminal justice resources to reduce crime.

Glenn E. Martin
Associate Vice President of Policy and Advocacy
The Fortune Society
Long Island City, Queens, May 21, 2008

    Helping Prisoners Re-enter Society, NYT, 27.5.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/27/opinion/l27jails.html







A Second Chance


May 20, 2008
The New York Times

With prison costs soaring, many states are understandably desperate for ways to cut recidivism and increase the chances that newly released prisoners build viable lives. The Second Chance Act, signed into law by President Bush last month, would galvanize the re-entry effort, providing the states with money and guidance. Now Congress must appropriate the promised dollars.

Some states are already leading the way. In Illinois — where the inmate population has doubled since the late 1980s — Gov. Rod Blagojevich has begun a promising re-entry program that could become a national model. The comprehensive plan includes drug treatment, job training and placement and a variety of community-based initiatives designed to help newly released inmates forge successful postprison lives.

Illinois is also revamping its parole system by hiring more parole officers and changing regulations so that parolees who commit lesser violations are dealt with in their community — with counseling, drug treatment or more vigilant monitoring — rather than being reflexively sent back to prison. The state is working with Chicago’s Safer Foundation to provide job training and placement for people just out of prison.

Parole-based reforms are also proving effective in Texas and Kansas. Both states have expanded drug treatment and other services and have seen a drop in parole revocations. Therapeutic programs that help ex-offenders reconnect with their families — while providing them with medical and mental health care — are also important.

A fully funded Second Chance Act would help other states develop their own much-needed re-entry programs. The $330 million cost is a small price to pay to reduce prison populations and give more ex-offenders a better chance to make it on the outside.

    A Second Chance, NYT, 20.5.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/20/opinion/20tue3.html?ref=opinion






New Tack Offers

Straying Parolees a Hand, Not Cuffs


May 17, 2008
The New York Times


WICHITA, Kan. — Since his release in January after serving time for a 2006 theft conviction, Lonnie Kemp has violated his parole conditions several times, getting drunk and kicked out of a halfway house and showing traces of marijuana in urine tests. If this were a few years ago, he almost certainly would be back in prison.

Similar parole violations after a previous theft conviction, in 1988, had repeatedly landed him back inside. In those days, parole was enforced with a spirit that officials recall, only half-jokingly, as “trail ’em, nail ’em, jail ’em,” overfilling the prisons but doing little to rehabilitate offenders.

Today, Kansas is a leader in a spreading national effort to make parole more effective and useful — to reduce violations and reincarcerations as it protects the public and seeks to help more offenders go straight. Mr. Kemp’s parole officer is keeping close tabs on him, but instead of sending him for a punitive stretch behind bars, he required Mr. Kemp to attend a substance-abuse program, made sure he had a stable home with a relative and helped him get a job with a construction company.

A similar transformation of the parole system has begun in several states including Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York and Texas. It has been prompted in part by financial concerns: more than one-third of all prison admissions are for parole violations, helping to drive an unsustainable surge in prison-building.

It has also been driven by evidence that conventional parole supervision is often a waste of resources. “If we sent him back to prison for 90 days, he’d have to start all over with his life again,” Kent Sisson, parole director for southern Kansas, said of Mr. Kemp. “Instead, he’s working, paying child support and getting a G.E.D.”

Mr. Kemp, 51, said: “Before, you didn’t want to have parole officers around, they’d send you back for almost anything. This time, I have positive people around me and I can call my parole officer any time.”

An influential study in 2005 by the Urban Institute concluded that parole supervision had little effect on the rate at which ex-prisoners were re-arrested.

“Parole is a system set up to find failure,” said Michael Jacobson, president of the Vera Institute of Justice in New York and a former chief of corrections and probation for the city. “If what you’re interested in is finding failure and putting people back in prison, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.”

“But it doesn’t work in terms of public safety or public spending,” said Mr. Jacobson, who praised Kansas as a pioneer in reforms.

As part of a get-tough spirit, a number of states in recent decades adopted mandatory sentences and ended the historic discretion of parole boards over release dates. Yet every state still has post-release supervision for most offenders, averaging three years with stiff conditions like not consuming alcohol, having urine tests, abiding by curfews, holding a job and meeting regularly with a parole officer.

The most widespread change is the use of risk assessments that help officials concentrate on those deemed most likely to commit new crimes. Those seen as low risk are only loosely supervised, perhaps even allowed to just send in status reports by mail.

“Half the offenders will do fine without any supervision,” Mr. Sisson said. “We’re trying to better understand who are the 50 percent most likely to commit more crimes, and how we can prevent that.”

The reformers are seeking a deeper change in attitude as well. “We’ve rewritten all our job descriptions,” said Roger Werholtz, the Kansas secretary of corrections. “The idea is to work with offenders to prevent them from violating their conditions of release, rather than just monitoring them to see if violations occur.”

In a sharp break with tradition, here and in some other states, parole agencies are hiring officers with backgrounds in social work rather than law enforcement. Parole officers are partnering with re-entry case workers who help prepare prisoners for society with group therapy and housing and job assistance. They start meeting prisoners well before their release, visit their families and may even drive them to a job interview.

“We now talk about reducing the barriers to success,” said Mr. Sisson, who works closely with the county re-entry director, Sally Frey.

In Kansas, parolees who threaten violence or openly defy the rules are still put back in prison, and those who commit new crimes are put on trial. But for those with lesser lapses, like Mr. Kemp, officials try to judge whether reincarceration will be useful and may rely instead on a combination of help, closer supervision and graduated sanctions.

Those seen as on the edge are required to report six evenings a week to a day reporting center, where they attend group therapy meetings designed to make them examine their motives and goals. They are often required to wear G.P.S. ankle bracelets that record their movements and flag violations, like not being home at curfew or, for a sex offender, going too near a school.

The changes, introduced over the last few years, are having measurable success, Mr. Werholtz said.

In Kansas in 2003, he said, an average of 203 parolees were returned to prison each month. By last year the number dropped to 103 a month. This could simply mean that those violating parole were left unpunished. But the number of convictions for new crimes by parolees has also declined; in the late 1990s, the number of people on parole with new convictions averaged 424 a year; in the last three years, it was down to 280 despite greater overall numbers under supervision.

“I think the data pretty well establish that not only are we keeping people out of prison at a better rate but that the amount of criminal activity they are inflicting on the public has also declined,” Mr. Werholtz said.

The state has also been able to put off costly prison construction plans, he said.

For inmates seen as high-risk, the re-entry team starts meeting them as early as 18 months before their release, often getting them into therapy groups and starting schooling or job training. The parole officers may join in about six months prior to release.

At the Winfield Correctional Facility, Mike Lentz, a parole officer who deals with gang-connected offenders, recently joined a re-entry case worker, Brianna Morphis, and a police liaison and a substance abuse specialist for Mr. Lentz’s first meeting with prisoners he would later supervise.

One of them, Raphael Frazier, 27, has about four months left to serve on a forgery conviction before starting parole. After being sent to prison in 1999 for aggravated robbery, Mr. Frazier was released on parole in 2003 but re-imprisoned in 2004 for three months for absconding, or failure to report.

In 2005 he was convicted on a new charge of forgery. This time he had more help, including group therapy and technical training in airplane building that should land him a good job with one of the aircraft companies clustered around Wichita.

“It makes it easier knowing that people are out to help you, instead of driving a stake in your back every time you turn around,” Mr. Frazier said. “I changed my attitude.”

Another innovation is accountability panels, which are groups of community volunteers, including former inmates, pastors and others who meet with newly released offenders to offer encouragement and meet them later to discuss problems or, ideally, congratulate them for completing parole. Panelists try to be encouraging and helpful.

Lorlei Sontag, 37, who has struggled with crack addiction, recently met her panel when she finally completed drug treatment after failed efforts. She told of going to the dentist and seeing a familiar crack house through the window.

“My stomach was doing flips, but I didn’t go,” she said. As the group applauded her progress, one panelist said she knew of a different dentist Ms. Sontag could see in a less tempting location.

At Wichita’s day reporting center, Shontell J., 31, described his three months wearing a G.P.S.-monitor ankle bracelet: “It’s irritating as hell, you can feel it’s always there.”

Convicted when he was 17 for aggravated battery, he spent twelve and a half years in prison and has a large scar on his cheek from a prison fight.

He started a roofing job while still in prison and has kept it for three years, and he has adopted his girlfriend’s two children.

But he has also had serious parole violations that put him under house arrest three times and then on daily reporting, with G.P.S. surveillance. Once he drove to Topeka, beyond the permitted 50-mile limit, and got caught when he was stopped for a traffic violation. He was arrested in a bar fight in another town and he failed a urine test.

Now, still reporting most days but no longer wearing the ankle bracelet, he said: “I tell myself a thousand times, I will not get into trouble.”

Mr. Kemp’s violations did not result in an ankle bracelet, but Mr. Lentz, his parole officer, said that in the past he still would have sent him back for a prison stay. In the new spirit, though, Mr. Lentz noted that “none of his actions are so heinous or hurtful to the community.”

Mr. Kemp works from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day, assembling lumber for a company that makes trusses for houses. Initially he is making just $6.50 an hour — “not much, but it pays the bills,” he said — but he is in line for a permanent position and a raise.

“Things are going real smooth now,” he said.

He has one son who is 29 and another who is 14 and living with a relative.

“When I get myself together, I want my two boys to come live with me,” Mr. Kemp said. “I want to be a father.”

    New Tack Offers Straying Parolees a Hand, Not Cuffs, NYT, 17.5.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/17/us/17parole.html







Racial Inequity and Drug Arrests


May 10, 2008
The New York Times


The United States prison system keeps marking shameful milestones. In late February, the Pew Center on the States released a report showing that more than 1 in 100 American adults are presently behind bars — an astonishingly high rate of incarceration notably skewed along racial lines. One in nine black men aged 20 to 34 are serving time, as are 1 in 36 adult Hispanic men.

Now, two new reports, by The Sentencing Project and Human Rights Watch, have turned a critical spotlight on law enforcement’s overwhelming focus on drug use in low-income urban areas. These reports show large disparities in the rate at which blacks and whites are arrested and imprisoned for drug offenses, despite roughly equal rates of illegal drug use.

Black men are nearly 12 times as likely to be imprisoned for drug convictions as adult white men, according to one haunting statistic cited by Human Rights Watch. Those who are not imprisoned are often arrested for possession of small quantities of drugs and later released — in some cases with a permanent stain on their records that can make it difficult to get a job or start a young person on a path to future arrests.

Similar concerns are voiced by the New York Civil Liberties Union, which issued a separate study of the outsized number of misdemeanor marijuana arrests among people of color in New York City.

Between 1980 and 2003, drug arrests for African-Americans in the nation’s largest cities rose at three times the rate for whites, a disparity “not explained by corresponding changes in rates of drug use,” The Sentencing Project finds. In sum, a dubious anti-drug strategy spawned amid the deadly crack-related urban violence of the 1980s lives on, despite changed circumstances, the existence of cost-saving alternatives to prison for low-risk offenders or the distrust of the justice system sowed in minority communities.

Nationally, drug-related arrests continue to climb. In 2006, those arrests totaled 1.89 million, according to federal data, up from 1.85 million in 2005, and 581,000 in 1980. More than four-fifths of the arrests were for possession of banned drugs, rather than for their sale or manufacture. Underscoring law enforcement’s misguided priorities, fully 4 in 10 of all drug arrests were for marijuana possession. Those who favor continuing these policies have not met their burden of proving their efficacy in fighting crime. Nor have they have persuasively justified the yawning racial disparities.

All is not gloomy. Many states have begun expanding their use of drug treatment as an alternative to prison. New York’s historic crime drop has continued even as it has begun to reduce the number of nonviolent drug offenders in prison, attesting to the oft-murky relationship between incarceration and crime control. In December, the United States Sentencing Commission amended the federal sentencing guidelines to begin to lower the disparities between the sentences imposed for crack cocaine, which is more often used by blacks, and those imposed for the powder form of the drug.

The looming challenge, says Jeremy Travis, the president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, is to have arrest and incarceration policies that are both effective for fighting crime and promoting racial justice and respect for the law. As the new findings attest, the nation has a long road to travel to attain that goal.

    Racial Inequity and Drug Arrests, NYT, 10.5.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/10/opinion/10sat1.html




home Up